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Dubai-based brand All Things Mochi is on a mission to create contemporary fashion that integrates local culture with female empowerment by using local embroiders around the world. Founded by Ayah Tabari – who is originally from Palestine but has lived in Amman, Riyadh and London – the designer’s philanthropic journey has taken her from the Berber tribes of Morocco to the mirror-work stitchers of Jaipur.
For Mochi’s SS18 collection, Tabari immersed herself in Mexico‘s indigenous culture resulting in a casual yet sophisticated look book which screams bohemian dreams. Conscious design is the name of the game for the colourful pieces that seamlessly take you from day to night, so it’s no surprise that the brand counts Georgia May Jagger and Pandora Sykes as fans.
Tabari let SUITCASE in on her embroidery hunt, the artisans she met and how she translates culture into clothing.
Tell us a bit about the Mexico collection.
It was inspired by intricate embroidery created by the indigenous Mayan population. It’s made up of 25 ready-to-wear pieces and silhouettes including jumpsuits, dress and coordinated sets, each made from linen mixed with embroidery and patterns such as stripes and rainbow prints.
What’s different about this season?
I was primarily inspired by contrasts; I wanted to combine tough and delicate elements to create a more complex version of Mochi. I’ve previously only used the traditional textiles from the various regions to make up full silhouettes, but these raw materials are heavy and quite difficult to work with. For this collection, we added linen, cotton and other materials to make the pieces lighter and easier to wear.
What was travelling around Mexico like?
I was a bit nervous about travelling alone but it was an incredible experience. It’s hard to visualise a collection until you are in the country, so travelling is always the last piece of the puzzle.
Did you have a rough idea of what you were looking for?
Yes, definitely. My aim was to find local artisans who do cross-stitch embroidery (which looks a bit like friendship bracelets), source it and then immerse myself in that craft and culture as much as possible.
Where did your journey take you?
With the help of a guide, I travelled around Yucatán and Chiapas. There’s no specific area in Yucatán where the artisans live so on the second day we scoured everywhere looking for the right embroidery. I was lucky and met a welcoming family of artisans who I sat with for hours, just watching them work. Although there was such a language barrier, they understood what I wanted.
What makes the Mayan culture and clothing special?
They believe that clothing can transform a person, so they add accents and embellishments to protect the wearer. The huipil blouse has been a symbol of local culture for centuries and is worn by Yucatecan women to represent harmony and unity. The style of the huipil indicates a woman’s ethnicity, community and beliefs, while the decorative elements (such as lace and feathers) can signify history or something personal about the wearer.
Can you describe their embroidery techniques?
The most complicated is called “xocbichuy”, or cross-stitch, which is multi-coloured stitching. I chose the colours according to the base colours in each of the pieces, which were pale blue, pink, yellow and rainbow. Then there is “manicté” which combines embroideries to form shapes or flowers.
In the villages I visited on my first day, I watched a local mestizo sitting on a bench in a courtyard, embroidering pieces of satin, dacron and silk that later adorned some suits – it was beautiful. Although we’ve chosen to use 100% cotton with linen, I am going to incorporate silk into our high-summer collection. The Mayans’ use of satin stitching and running stitch are now coupled with modern-day influences which incorporate cross stitching and long-arm stitching.
Besides embroidery, how did you translate Mayan culture into the collection?
Cultural diversity is seen in the vast range of bright colours. We also wanted to replicate the confidence and pride that Mayan women have but ensure it was transferable to women beyond Mexico, so we used linen and incorporated geometric patterns.
Do you always travel for your collections?
What else did you get up to in Mexico?
I took a boat trip to the Lagunas De Montebello in Chiapas, which has some of the most varied landscapes in Mexico – jungles, Mayan ruins and waterfalls. My favourite was the Misol Ha (the Mayan term for streaming water) which has a 20-metre-long cave hidden behind it and another waterfall inside. I also spent some time exploring the streets of San Cristobal; the town is rich in indigenous culture and history, while the area is home to one of the largest Mayan populations in Mexico which gives it a diverse flair. There are also lots of art and textile markets, the best one being next to the Iglesia Ex-Convento Santo Domingo that sells all sorts of handmade clothes and shoes.
What about the food?
Must-try dishes include enchilada-like papadzules and chiles rellenos (fried stuffed peppers).
Did you incorporate anything from the region into the collection?
I’ve become obsessed with straw bags and I wanted to cover them in cross-stitch. The straw is tougher to embroider than silk or linen and there are particular communities in Chiapas that do it, so I was really happy to find them.
What’s next for All Things Mochi?
I’m currently working on something fun in LA for next year, but I can’t tell you what our next country just yet. Hopefully, it’s going to be a good year for us.
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